This week, we’ve read a lot about Time’s Person of the Year, Greta Thunberg. This has caught the attention of every media outlet at home and abroad, and even the White House added their two cents on the matter. What’s even more interesting is the tagline that went with the announcement, calling 2019 “The Year of the Youth.”
As someone who works with empowered young people every day, I was first elated at this announcement. Then, the more I thought about it, the more confused I became. My confusion has nothing to do with Greta or climate change or any of the other political powder-kegs that have blasted this week. Instead, my confusion comes in that fact that only now, in 2019, is “The Power of Youth” being celebrated and recognized. Where have you been, Time Magazine?
Let’s take a moment to flip-open our history books. The year was 1981. The place—Wayland, Massachusetts. Over the course of just a few short weeks, several teens lost their lives in alcohol-related crashes. The students, desperate to stop this public health epidemic, joined their hockey coach, Bob Anastas, to start the largest movement of empowered youth this country has seen. Today, Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) is still leading that charge with thousands of chapters across the country in high schools, middle schools, and colleges. Our students are walking the walk and fighting against the opioid crisis, vaping, and distracted driving. They’re leading the charge to remove the stigma on anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
Our SADD students may never be heard on the stage of the UN, but oh, if the hallways of our country’s schools could talk, you would hear of the ways SADD students have made a meaningful impact; speaking-up when a friend is about to make a poor choice, fighting for change about the issues that matter most to them. They’ve been heard by the leaders of our land—Boards of Education, Mayors, City Councils, the chambers of Congress, and the Oval Office.
Everyone benefits when youth are empowered. I have seen cities turned around, not by a political party or career politicians, but by young people who have said, “enough.” Our workforce needs students who are empowered to think critically, who are mobilized and ready to tackle the toughest problems that previous generations have put to the side.
The Year of Empowered Youth? You bet it is! But so is every year. Let’s not act like this is the first time we’ve listened to our youth and been better for it. Each day there are hundreds of thousands of SADD students using their time to make a difference. Maybe in 2020, we can correct our vision and stop talking about the “leaders of tomorrow.” Why? My friends, we are looking at the leaders of today!
Congrats, Greta! Thank you for reminding the world of the power of youth. It would serve us well to remember that young people will be the ones, every day, leading the charge to make change. As history has shown us, they are the ones who always have.
President & CEO